Tone to Disagree Takes Humility

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He emerged unexpectedly in a brain based leadership grad course I taught. Like a jewel’s multiple hues glitter in flashes of sunlight his wit and wisdom became our glow. This grad student could easily have taught the course. Instead he taught our entire graduate community by his humble tone, how to lift leadership to new heights of modesty and meekness in genius hues.

There is much I could say about the value of learning from others by choice as this student did so well. In fact, it’s already clear from earlier blog posts that I too aspire to still be learning from toddlers on my way out of life’s journey. Nor do I refer here to my belief in Steve Job’s practice that it doesn’t make sense to recruit smart people and then tell them what to do. With Jobs, I believe that ‘we recruit smart people so they can tell us what to do!” The same is true for grad students recruited to any class I teach. We tend to pull together to celebrate a leadership tone that shimmers with humility and gleams with superpowers for a brain based era.

Don’t get me wrong. Humility is not an eerie silence in the room where evil gets its way and leaders grow complicit! Just the opposite.

Unpretentious leaders speak up with an array of polish, attractive in majestic moonstones. They  shape tone skills to respond brilliantly in difficult settings. A humble tone fuels the brain’s aha chemicals such as serotonin, whenever it snips arrogant reactions from our amygdala before it snipes back. It’s often a matter of reflecting on radiant new roadways to move forward with respect rather than from following frustration’s furrow. It stands opposite stressed brains that rely more on habits that run us into ruts. It gleams past disagreement flames because it extinguishes one-up-ship magically by its dazzling beauty on several sides of hot issues.

Tone like my graduate student modeled, invites us all to live more like Einstein. I see it as possibility tools, or tone skills that inspire the kind of gentleness that can shake a world, and help others to deal ethically with stubborn problems we all face. Sadly, we find too few examples of good tone skills in most political circles.

Does the beauty and simplicity of jeweled tone skills carry you peacefully through sticky situations such as bullying? Could tone become majestic, and consistent in a professional way within our leadership? Given pressures from a tough economy, or changing cultural norms there may be weeks where we feel anything but glorious or even regal. Perhaps we find it impossible to stand against the epitome of utterly ruthless conflicts that cross our path. And while we know that to run or ignore tension, tends to merely add more discord to its encounters, we race to safety in mere efforts to survive.

Tone, in these times, offers a way to cast hope and fortune into tough situations, to lead away from arrogance or greed as it revs up brainpower, to offer an olive branch to opponents.  It’s the jewel that inspires courage to engage voices respectfully on the other side of coflicts in spite of thorny issues we face. It glimmers beyond wicked shades of lies, merely by adding sunlight, to jewels of truth we deeply desire. Etched in gold, it’s far more striking than stress that tends to  kill brainpower.

Many leaders hold useful insights that could dynamically improve our lives and enrich our conditions in spite of conflicts. Yet why do we see so many talented leaders remain silent when controversy strikes? Perhaps more than most people realize, leadership takes tethering good tone skills to humility’s force for life-changing advancements. Especially when the chips are down.

Tone polishes and cuts leadership to perfection, like a brilliant gem it bounces rays of rainbow light over a dim cavern. Tone transfixes leadership with enchanting jewels in impossibly bright colors. Good tone gives leaders an ethereal glow. It shimmers across conflicts with a radiance of its ability to glow brighter and shine for those whose hues dim.

Research shows tone as the choice between awakening angel or devil parts within our brains. It either shines like the sun’s rays lite on ocean waves at dawn, or it envelops a vintage stone clenched in advance by a few who dominate others to enrich personal ego.

Stress defaults us into poor tone if that’s our stored habit. Unless we deliberately target effective growth, poor tone will likely rise up like a viper and spew toxic chemicals that work against entire networks. Have you seen it happen? It radiates features that expose the scorn that broil inside conflicts,  when faced without humility.

Not surprisingly, the brain  hardwires for healthy or horrid reactions to stressors. You may have noticed especially poor tone skills used in online forums, where open comments are encouraged. People show astonishing anger or hatred over slightest differences in view. Or perhaps you’ve encountered negative tone that flashes quickly into angry words when differences arise.  As the body language of communication across diversity, tone ripples online beyond its origins within seconds.

Frustration triggers lack of respect, or intimidation sparks toxic silence in public and then downgrades into venting in private. Even social media can help or hurt tone. Poor tone slips into communication in a flash, while brain based approaches call for time and reflection that result in brain powered tools to disagree. Yet few people realize the power of tone to move their lives forward or backward in an instant. Tone will either prosper productivity, or will isolate you and weaken any efforts to upgrade a difficult setting. Fortunately, it’s a matter of choice.

It’s no secret that some gene pools come with a stronger proclivity for good tone, against cynicism. Others, like me, will want to develop more polished tone skills, like we improve other brain based tools. Either way, watch tone’s brainpower add goodwill across differences. For each barrier met, successful leaders target learned tone skills that counter that negative force. It’s a deliberate choice, and like other brain based skills positive tone grows dendrite brain cells for more of the same, with each use.

People who learn and use good tone, rarely get hung up on the common barriers to tone. They simply act on a barrier’s opposite. In other words they choose to communicate tone over heated or deceptive barbs. What do your tone skills say?

Do you target tone skills when:

  1. Meta-messages fashion words other than speakers really mean. Sarcasm and cynicism run rampant, for instance,  in circles where a person says one thing and intends the complete opposite. Dr. Deborah Tannen found that mothers’ relationships with their adult daughters suffered needlessly because of meta-messages. Listen to an NPR interview about her book on this topic. It doesn’t have to be that way. With each insincere exchange, tone offers back an opportunity to target respectful, clear speech. Consider it a chance to express what you mean with integrity and without sacrificing truth that fuels well articulated honesty.  Rather than say you’re OK with issues that disquiet you, good tone skills offer you courage to suggest alternatives for any idea out there. Do you agree?

  2. Hurtful humor often comes at times when people can least absorb the barbs without feeling their amygdala heat up. Yet use of good tone in light of hurt feelings through careless comedians, calls into choice tools that diffuse difficulties, and that build goodwill. Tone models the best of laughter since it laughs quickly at self, while at the same time refusing to make others the butt of jokes. Have you seen good tone used in humor that finds more listeners laughing? If so, you will have also experienced the enzymes and healthy chemicals that surge through the brain in response.

  3. Unfair competition or disagreeable settings that diminish some people to favor others, often stir outright fights. In such situations emotional intelligence can run low, and passions rage, to further blur any calm responses. Competition that gives access to some yet locks out others, due to unfair or unclear ground rules, calls for unique tone skills. No question, rivalry in our fast paced world can become an uncomfortable mishmash of inequity, or even brutality. People with good tone skills need not feel daunted or uncomfortable when battles heat up, or antagonism gets out of hand. Likely they’ve already practiced tone skills in personal and professional relationships, and so they’re far more ready to speak out calmly, ask for rationale and hopefully help to improve the playing fields.

  4. Excessive critique is taught and tossed into professional circles to the detriment of good tone. Think about it. You step up to offer an idea, when the criticism starts flying faster than bees to honey. Leaders and learners often tell us they feel criticized from the time they enter certain circles, and some add that critical people find justification in flawed systems they frequent. Critique can be a good thing when tone affirms the good at times, thanks people who differ, shares in others’ experiences with respect, and finds courage to build on mistakes in ways that bring resolve errors and move on.

To target tone is to practice its calm in tough times, such as financial loss. Why so? Because in doing any act of good tone, the brain rewires for more of the same – when further conflicts arise. That may mean laughing when you feel tears well up. It may mean deliberately looking for delight in tasks that once brought fear. Showing reasons for hope where media reports on despair. Reaching for divine help when human simply cannot offer answers. Shifting to strengthen a positive belief when faced with cynicism. Looking for concrete proofs rather than remaining in doubt. Tone takes different shapes in different settings. That said, it often meets its finest opportunity to create life-changing respect and caring that leads to more success. Yes, even in flawed or broken exchanges.

I’m referring here to this graduate student’s tone that cultivates brainpower across an entire community.

It’s the kind of communication prepared to side-step a fight with cynics the next time a disagreement arises! Have you noticed how highly successful people use tone to advance their lives and communities? Or how ineffective people clobber brainpower all around them? It’s no coincidence since tone is the fuel that drives interpersonal intelligence toward or away from our targets.

It refuses to blame others when things go wrong, it teams with others to address problems in any circles. It offers tactics to disagree respectfully  beyond a mere recognition of the cynicism, anger or intimidation that triggers tone’s nemesis.


Successful tone builds goodwill by:

  • Affirming another person’s insights – even before sharing views on the other side. Not that one has to agree, or even value other views especially. Yet tone shows that you heard, considered and valued the person who holds different views.

  • Thanking people for different approaches – and show how you will try a few new methods based on what you’ve learned from theirs.

  • Sharing personal experiences – with respect, so that others would enjoy thinking about these together. Rather than a need to replace original ideas presented by others.

  • Asking a 2-footed question – before you offer personal ideas on the topic. For instance, you could ask – “Have you thought about…? What if…? Could another possibility be…?

  • Adding one unique idea to the mix – to inspire with confidence. Make it more a part of an invigorating discussion, than any need to top another person’s points. Whenever you support your own best ideas – with concrete examples, people tend to see more possibilities in what you present.

Bravo – we’ve also just tapped into serotonin that builds good will, as well as mutiple intelligences that sustains talented communication. What tone tips would inspire us to engage more diverse views for genuine solutions?

Brain based tone glitters attractively in the light to dissipate any guilt we feel when goodwill disappears.  I gives us a hard tap back into a sigh in relief that comes when mistakes refuse to shatter us. Good tone fosters a future of harmony across differences because it’s not made of cheap glass. If we run our fingers over its polished surface we see it shinning brightly within a crown of humility.

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Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset